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Shedding their unassuming demeanor, the five-piece take a leap to their next phase atop a 1980s electrical current.
Three out of five members of MONKS clamber into the stylish garden booths in The Merchant. There’s jokes and chatter about whether it’s too early to order a few drinks. Classic Northern behaviour on a sunny day. For funky outfits alone, it’s 10 out of 10 stylish points from me, and straight away, it’s clear that this was going to be an interview full of laughter.
Starting out properly in 2018, Monks fuse various influences of psychedelic rock, jazz, and dream-pop. However, the band as we now know them might have never happened.
“At first, I wasn’t convinced about joining the band. I heard the first demo and thought we were crap,” guitarist Nathan Johnson jokes. It’s the band’s witty banter with no filter that makes them so enjoyable to be around. That fun, feel-good approach evidently spills over into their music, especially in their latest release, 100 Percent.
The notion of labour typifies the make-up of the band. Each member has their own role and they remain equal at all times. With only three members of Monks next to me, the band doesn’t forget to mention trumpet player Joe Fay and bassist Liam Daly.
After the two years of focusing on recording tracks and booking shows, Monks have now begun to alter their sound, all agreeing that it has “changed for the better”.
“We went down to Sheffield and recorded with Ross Orton who worked on Arctic Monkeys’ AM album. He had a big influence on the new sound and from that one session, he inspired a lot of ideas for new songs,” singer and guitarist George Pomford states. Drummer Kali Diston-Jones nods in agreement, before adding how the new sound has also been a learning curve for them.
“The collaboration with Ross came around when we were on tour,” George starts. It was a telling moment, they agreed, when discussing how they jumped at the opportunity before doing their research. “We were performing in London and someone’s manager from someone’s label was there. Basically, it’s a ‘someone’s aunt’s cousin’s dog’ situation where someone had a connection and sorted the collaboration out,” he adds as laughter erupts from the cousin’s dog comment.
“If you told 13-year-old me that I would be working with someone who worked with the Arctic Monkeys, I just wouldn’t have believed you. The kid in me was being a fanboy,” Nathan continues. The appreciation and respect for the producer is clear as they’re grinning ear to ear when discussing the trip to Sheffield. “It felt amazing to work with someone like that, knowing he worked on AM and that he also liked our demo.”
While basking in the summer sun, being ultimate fanboys, and reminiscing about a demo that was something George had done during his GCSEs, the humour doesn’t die out. “My nan’s a bit critical, but she liked the new song so we must be doing something right,” Nathan reflects, as the topic shifts onto their debut EP, set to be released this winter.
No longer recording with the live aspect in the back of their minds, I ask the band how changing sound has altered their songwriting and live performance perspectives. “We are matching up a lot of bands that are bigger than us now with how they incorporate backing tracks and electronic sounds via SSD pads,” Kali starts. “We’re not standing there thinking about how something will sound live, we’re more thinking about how we can add it to a backing track to amplify what we are doing and to solidify the new direction we are taking.”
“And we’re going to try adding lights to our live shows! We’ve had a lot of time to plan,” George excitedly cuts in at the end.
The band move on to discussing their latest single released later in July. Pushed further for the influences for the new sound, George touches on the specifics for Night Moves. “The inspiration for this song came from changing my writing process,” he starts to tell me. “I was watching loads of film and TV series clips on YouTube but muting the sound; writing music to the clips I was watching.
“I had a scene from Miami Vice on repeat for hours where a car was just going past and, from that scene, I started sampling the synths. I think getting the visual before the sound helps the songwriting process because it’s hard to write a song if you can’t see where it’s going visually. I think that’s why the new single is very 80s-pop inspired, because I was looking at 80s themed visuals.” In between each comment made about the upcoming EP, George cannot hide how proud he is of what they’ve produced. “Talking about it just makes me so happy,” he boasts.
While a wealth of contemporary music contains overt political sentiment, it’s a route the band have tried to steer clear from so far. “It’s very on trend to be political within the music industry and we think that’s good. People should use their platforms for that type of stuff,” Nathan affirms. “It’s such a complex subject though, isn’t it? If you do it, you have to do it well and be correct about what you’re saying,” George quickly adds. “We have tried incorporating it into our lyrics in the past, but it always sounds cringey or like we don’t know what we’re talking about; it doesn’t match our sound.”
We’ve been speaking for an hour now. The sun has made us all delusional as we ramble on about George’s TikTok obsession, Olly Murs being Kali’s guilty pleasure and Shrek 2. It’s clear that the boys are ready to enjoy a few drinks. But before I let them go, I ask what life has been like being in a band. “People think that when you’re in a band and on the road, you go out all the time and get bevvied or do different substances,” George begins. They are pretty upfront about a musician’s lifestyle and openly divert themselves away from the classic stereotypes. “I’d say we’re pretty boring when it comes to that. We’re the most boring band in Liverpool.” “Hey, we have a nice presence!” Kali interrupts .
Having had the last year and a half of their usual life of touring and recording together put on hold due to the pandemic, the band made sure to touch on the impact that it had on them. “We’ve been able to take a step back and appreciate what we do more,” Kali begins. “Pre-Covid, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to land gigs or record deals, whereas now, we’re just enjoying everything and appreciating it more,” adds George.
As the band continue to latch onto the end of each other’s sentences, George ends the interview with a summary of the last hour. “OK, so main influences for the new sound: Olly Murs and Shrek 2. What other cringe things have we said?” he questions. “I think that’s it. That’s us, Monks,” Nathan replies. As a closing maxim, Kali proclaims: “A boring band with a nice presence, and we have a trumpet! What major label doesn’t want to sign that?” Perhaps the heat is getting to all of us today.
Night Moves is available from 23rd July.
Monks headline the Bido Lito! Social at Future Yard on Friday 30th July. Support comes from A Lesser Version. Tickets available via SeeTickets and Bido Lito! Members get free admission.